Why do polar bears need saving?
Polar Bears are under threat! Over the last 30 years, Sea Ice had decreased by 40%, majorly disrupting the bears habitat (GreenPeace, (2018). The reduced living space means that polar bears smaller breeding grounds, and diminished hunting territories. They are officially classified as an endangered species. Currently, there are only 22,000 polar bears left, but a further decline of 30% is expected by 2050 (WWF, 2018). The decline in polar bears means that the Arctic biodiversity and ecosystem are also under threat; polar bears eat seals and seals eat fish. So, the immediate effect of a decline in the bear population is more seals and subsequently less fish. As if a salmon fillet isn’t expensive enough already! Steps must be taken to protect this beautiful creature, its home and its ecosystem.
Environmental protection organisations, like GreenPeace and WWF, are attempting to put pressure on the Government to reduce climate change. However, their campaigns are not getting enough support from the public. Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to get people to act against climate change, even if they agree with the sentiment (ie saving polar bears). George Marshal (2015) argues that our brains are wired to ignore threats that are uncertain and in the future, and so people do not engage with the issue of climate change. This makes it rather difficult to persuade people to change their behaviour in favour if climate protection. Because our brains prevent us from getting invested in the issue of climate change, we use excuses like ‘I don’t have the time’ to avoid action. The result is that oil firms and fracking companies are free to destroy the Arctic without much resistance.
What we did and how we did it
The aim of our project is to get more people involved in the fight against climate change, simply by getting them to sign one petition in favour of Arctic Protection. This is a low-risk behaviour which is quick to do and costs no money, making it our best shot for maximum recruitment. We created a poster (shown below) that provides some information about threats to the arctic and what can be done about it. We hung this poster up around campus, primarily in the Student Union’s food outlets, which several hundred people visit every week. This way, we could target people who are waiting for their food and thus had little choice but to engage with the poster. However, most people who interacted with our poster were focused on their lunch, so reaching them via the central route of persuasion (where a rational argument would be effective) was unlikely (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979). We decided something more than rational argument was needed to get our distracted audience to engage with the issue.
Methods of persuasion
First, to get people to actually look at our poster, we included persuasion techniques from MINDSPACE (Dolan et al, 2012) to draw people in. Chiefly, the Affect Heuristic (Slovic et al., 2002) This is the idea that subjective notions of “goodness” & “badness” of a stimulus, are often decided by the immediate feeling the stimulus gives us. We used cute polar bears to persuade people of the ‘goodness’ of our scheme and by using a particularly cute but also sad picture of polar bears we hoped to induce a motivation to help. There are several findings that support the notion that just the polar bears being cute would promote helping behaviours (or a desire to help at least). Sherman et al. (2009) found that viewing very cute images of young animals enhanced behavioural carefulness significantly more than less cute images of grown up animals (as a result of the evolutionary adaptation for caring in humans). Gunnthorsdottir (2001) conducted research into specifically how animal cuteness affects the likelihood of their conservation. She found that cuter images of animals (when compared to less attractive images of the same animal) induced greater helping behaviours and increased desire to conserve the species. She also found that if an animal is simply framed as endangered, the ratings of the animals’ attractiveness increase from their initial scores. Which is exactly what we did.
To get people to choose to sign the petition, we used another persuasion technique called extremeness aversion, or the compromise effect (Simonson & Tversky, 1992). This works by presenting someone with 3 options, with the option you want them to pick in the middle. Regardless of content of these options, the person more likely to choose the middle option. This happens because people think of themselves as ‘average’ and so go for the ‘average’ option. Context-dependent choices such as this, have been shown to influence what size drink people purchase (Sharpe et al. 2008). Instead of drinks sizes, we wanted to present people with the issue of Arctic destruction and give them 3 choices. 1) Do nothing, 2) Sign a petition, 3) Donate Money. Because people want to avoid extreme options, they should go for option 2. We used QR codes that direct the page to 1) ‘I can’t believe you’ve done this’ gif ("Cantbelieveyoudonethis Punch GIF - Cantbelieveyoudonethis Punch - Discover & Share GIFs", 2018) 2) the GreenPeace Petition, or 3) WWF page to adopt a polar bear. We hoped that by combining the cute picture of polar bears with statistics of their current level of endangerment would increase eagerness to conserve them and their habitat. If this is true it would then feasibly mean that more people choose either the petition or donation (Slovic et al., 2002). This also forced people into a situation where they had to make a choice between doing something or doing nothing. Highlighting, that every day that they do not act to save the Arctic they are making an active coice, not abstaining from making a choice.
As a final touch, we included some colour and value elements to cue system 1 biases (Kahneman, 2015). We did this by including a sad face above the “I do not care about polar bears” option, a happy face above the “sign the petition option”, and an extremely happy face above the “adopt a polar bear” option. Additionally, the colour of each bar has an impact on the reader as well. The “I don’t care about polar bears” option is red, while the “sign the petition” option is in yellow, and the “adopt the polar bear” option is in green. These faces and colours represent universal symbols that are recognized by any reader as bad/stop, happy/ either speed up or slow down, and extremely happy/ go. This creates a perception about which option the reader is “supposed” to pick, if they are to go along with societal norms. Furthermore, on top of these pictures we’ve written “223089 people are already helping, why aren’t you? What will you do?” This also helps add to the perception that everyone else already cares about polar bears, and that in order to fit into society you should care about polar bears too. According to Clapp & McDonnell (2000), “the perception of the societal norm is a stronger predictor of behaviour than the actual societal norm”. So as long as you make people think that other people care about polar bears, even if they don’t, they will be more likely to sign the petition or adopt a polar bear
How we tracked the success of our project
Using QR codes let us track the effectiveness of our project, by counting how many times each QR was activated. The graph below shows the number or responses for each QR code 3 weeks after the posters went up. We had a total of 1144 response, and as we had hoped, the majority (51%) of activations were for the petition. Whilst we can’t know if those people signed the petition, we know that they engaged with the poster and therefore, the issue, which is an achievement in itself. People who went for the ‘Do Nothing’ option, at least got a good laugh out of the gif they were directed to.
http://exaj.co.uk/qrcode/results.php (This website shows the up-to-date number of responses)
Our hope for the future
The main thing we wanted to achieve with this project was to get more people to engage with the issues and consequences of climate change. By getting them to sign a petition, hopefully we will have planted a seed for further and greater action. The foot-in-the-door technique (Freedman & Fraser, 1966) shows that once people agree to a small request, like signing a petition, they are more likely to comply with greater requests, like donating money. Even if people do not donate (perhaps because of limited means) once people have made the decision to commit to an issue, they are likely to be consistent (Petrova et al., 2007), and so will continue to support environmentalist campaigns, even if its just signing petitions. These may seem like rather insignificant acts, but every person that stands up for the issues encourages more people to stand up, until there is enough of us to support greater action against climate change.
Authors: Avery Watters, Ella Hepburn and Greta Mohr
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